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How to Keep Good Boundaries with Your Ex after Divorce

  • Jen Grice Crosswalk Contributing Writer
  • Updated Apr 19, 2023
How to Keep Good Boundaries with Your Ex after Divorce

What are boundaries? Dr. Henry Cloud, an author of the book Boundaries, says,

“Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom. If I know where my yard begins and ends, I am free to do with it what I like. Taking responsibility for my life opens up many different options. However, if I do not ‘own’ my life, my choices and options become very limited.”

Every healthy person and relationship has boundaries. Toxic relationships need stronger boundaries to protect your freedom.

The boundaries that need to be established after divorce depend highly on what type of marriage the couple had and the reason for their divorce. Just like every marriage is different, every experience during and after a divorce is different as well; even if we have similar stories.

What to Consider When Establishing Boundaries

  • Was the marriage healthy, free from abuse (defined as having power and control over another person), not including any acts of adultery, and/or unresolved addiction?
  • Were the separation and divorce mutual or did one partner abruptly leave for another person?
  • Did the partner who left, lie about why they were leaving and/or gaslight their partner to think he/she is crazy to think that an adulterous relationship was the reason?
  • Is one spouse a narcissist who was selfish and self-centered throughout the marriage, which will probably continue after the divorce?

These are all things that need to be considered when a person decides what type of boundaries will be accepted, respected, and honored after divorce. Some couples can have a more laxer set of rules and requirements after divorce. Yet, many others have to have a strict divorce court order that spells everything out in great detail, never being able to deviate from that order. These certain boundaries need to be in place because a narcissistic person or abuser will take full advantage of any leniency.

In my experience with coaching women during and after a divorce, many of which who divorced a narcissistic person, creating and asserting boundaries has been tough. They just don’t feel they have the right to be their own person, with their own wishes and boundaries, after years of being so emotionally entangled with their spouse.

I hope to show that there can and should be a different way of interacting after divorce. And that everyone has a right to boundaries so that they can be free as Dr. Cloud describes.

Boundaries within Your Home

Sarah* was struggling with the fact that every time her ex-husband picked up or dropped off the children, he would step inside her home uninvited. He came in to make sure that kids had everything to go with him which usually meant he was there longer than just a few seconds.

While he waited for the kids to get the extra items he was requesting, he would start a conversation about some legal matter, about child support, or ask if she’d be willing to change the schedule, which usually led to an argument in front of the children. Or the kids would hear the conversation and make her feel bad for saying no.

She felt very uneasy every time he walked in, wondering what would happen next, and wanted to know how she could set a boundary to stop these confrontations.

During our time together, we figured out the best way to handle this situation was to tell her ex-husband that she didn’t want to argue in front of the children, so any future conversations would need to take place only via email.

And since the kids didn’t need a parent to walk them to and from the door, he could wait patiently in the car for the children and she would do the same when she picked up the kids from his home. To her great surprise, he agreed to this and the boundary was set.

Each parent is allowed to have their own rules and boundaries for their own homes. Some parents have learned to deal with an unwanted cell phone or other electronics purchase from the other parent, by saying, you can have that device when you’re at the other parent’s home but it doesn’t need to come here.

Or if it comes there, it gets put up until they go back to that parents’ home; making sure they always have a way to communicate with that other parent.

When parents can’t agree with how the children should be raised, what rules they should have, what age is appropriate for certain privileges or behaviors, what often works best is what we call parallel parenting. Each home has a different set of rules and the children just have to get used to how dad runs his home and how mom runs hers; neither one is better than the other, just different.

*A factious name/story

Boundaries for Your Time with Your Children

After a divorce, most children have to learn to divide their time between two homes. Their time is also divided between school, work when they’re old enough, and extracurricular activities. This is not necessarily a bad thing; could be a good skill to learn.

Their time with mom should be just that, time with their mom. And time with dad should be just time with their dad. This is not always possible and it doesn’t always work out so easily, but we as parents should do our best to honor that time, have boundaries in place to protect that time with their other parent, and make sure it happens, when possible, because children need both parents.

That’s why they have court orders that layout parenting time schedules after a divorce—I often say do not deviate from that court order (it’s the law). It’s a set of rules that hopefully both parents adhere too constantly. This also provides consistency in a child’s life.

The court order protects the time that the child is with one parent and hopefully, that parent has a boundary in their own life that says nothing is more important than this parenting time with my child; not work and certainly not my social life.

couple having serious conversation

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/MangoStar_Studio 

Boundaries about Time When Children Are with the Other Parent

It can become very easy for the primary or custodial parent to plan their child’s entire life, including the weekends and holidays they’re scheduled with the non-custodial parent. This means that a boundary should be in place that says until the child is well into their teen years, making their own schedule, that you will not schedule activities during the other parent’s time.

If this means they miss t-ball or soccer practice, it’s not the end of the world. If the other parent wants to take the child, then let that be their time, while you be the biggest supporter on the opposite weekend. I’ve seen it too many times, where kids are in the middle as both parents fight for their child’s attention at a little league practice. Just don’t be that parent!

The non-custodial parent may not even take all of their scheduled time, because of work or other reasons, but that doesn’t mean you punish the child by not allowing them to go on the next scheduled visit. That’s your child’s time with their other parent, don’t punish the child for what the other parent does. Let God handle this, He is so much better at obtaining justice than we are.

“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” Romans 12:19

Boundaries with Your Emotional Healing

Another one of the things I coach women through, after their divorce, is their emotional healing. They often find it hard to heal when so many things, like their spouse’s new partner—are a constant reminder of the affair and broken family—are at school functions, at church, and sometimes brought to their home.

I teach women that they can and should physically separate from their ex-spouse to heal. So they can focus on themselves and moving past all this pain. You don’t have to keep ripping the band-aid off pretending not to emotionally bleed. Take the time to allow Jesus to bandage your wounds and comfort you so you can heal.

“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3

You may need to have boundaries in place and assert them at times, even if others do not understand, so you’re not interacting with your husband/ex-husband and his new girlfriend or wife.

This may seem like a selfish thing, but it is often a necessity to come to a deeper level of healing after your divorce and the betrayal trauma. I’ve advised women to ask their child’s teacher for a different parent-teacher conference time from their ex-husband. Most teachers honor the request for two separate conference times so you don’t have to see him (or her).

Seven years after my divorce, after having those same types of boundaries in place for years, I was able to handle being around ex-husband again without any feelings of pain, sorrow, or trauma. It was only because of the boundaries and the time I spent healing and forgiving.

Boundaries, healing, and forgiveness are the same things I teach and hope for, for other women after their divorce. Because of the compassion and healing, God has given me, and how He redeemed by divorce story, I’m able to share that same experience with other women through my ministry.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Phrases That Make Asserting Your Boundaries Easier

  • “No.” – No is a complete sentence, you do not have to explain every reason why you say no. You could just say, “next time.” Or “No, we follow the court order.” You don’t have to apologize for saying no either.
  • “I do not need to rescue him/her.” – You do not have to help every person, not even those you’re related to or were married to. At some point, these people have to learn to take care of themselves.
  • “Their anger is not my problem.” – Do what’s best for you and your household, with consideration, but even it makes someone else angry.

You can and should have a peaceful life after divorce. Most times that means you separate from the drama, you don’t engage in endless arguments, and you have boundaries in place to protect your time and space. The more someone pushes past your boundaries, the higher up you raise those so you can live an emotionally healthy, healed life after divorce.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/People Images

Jen GriceJen Grice is a divorce coach and author of the books, You Can Survive Divorce and Your Restoration Journey about recovery and redemption after divorce. After her own unwanted divorce in 2013, Jen started a ministry to encourage and empower Christian women to not only survive but thrive after divorce caused by adultery, abuse, or abandonment. You can learn more about her ministry at Jen can also be found on YouTube talking about preparing for and divorcing a narcissist. And her books can be found at B&N or on Amazon.